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Ex-Cisco exec drawn to start-up Arista's software architecture

$400 per 10G port is fine, but Ullal's big on Arista's operating system

By , Network World
October 23, 2008 03:39 PM ET

Network World - Former Cisco data center chief Jayshree Ullal this week landed at switching start-up Arista Networks as its new CEO after leaving Cisco in May. Arista, started by Sun co-founder Andy Bechtolsheim (who remains at Sun in a part-time role), made waves last year by packing 48 10-Gigabit Ethernet ports into 1RU for the data center. Ullal spoke with Network World Managing Editor Jim Duffy about Arista's products, prospects and projections.

What attracted you to Arista?

I looked over the summer at least three types of options -- clean tech and energy, software-as-a-service and video. I got approached for CEO and COO opportunities in bigger companies that I viewed as more directly competitive with Cisco. Quite honestly, my affections for Cisco don't change just because I leave the company. If you've been there 15 years, you don't want to just take the same thing and repeat it. Also, [I had a desire to] go back to my entrepreneurial roots. Cisco will always be the best big company I worked for. And I decided I want to go back to ground zero again.

What does Arista bring to the data center that's unique?

The price/performance [$400 per 10G port] is always a huge advantage. But what drew me was actually their software architecture. I worked with four or five different operating systems in my time, and we all talk about modularity of the software, but that to me is just the tip of the iceberg. The real core of the software architecture is understanding what problem you're trying to solve and designing ground-up to solve it. The pain point in the data center is that much of the networking software is very monolithic. You can bring in a kernel like BSD or Linux, but that by itself doesn't solve the problem. What was unique about [Arista's] EOS [Extensible Operation System] is separation of state from different processes. We have a transactional database where all of the state of networking variables is stored. Now you can do live patching, fault containment, live repair -- real-time, in-service software upgrades. So, it's kernel, state and then the specific processes, like virtual LANs, Layer 3 routing, or switching or [control line interface]. . . . This is not something you can just pull out of Linux or classical, traditional software. The potential of EOS . . . all in a 1RU platform is just very compelling. [Google] has been our inspiration in developing products and platforms because they represent one of the largest and most scalable data centers. If we design a Google-class data center, then we know we've covered the gamut all the way from small/medium to large.

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Can Arista go it alone?

History would show you that there haven't been too many companies that have successfully built a stand-alone entity in the last decade. I hope we can be a unique differentiation from history because of the innovation. We have over 1,000 man-years of networking expertise in the company, even though we're less than 50 people.

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